Doc Highlights at imagineNATIVE 2019

Now Is the Time is one of the documentary highlights at this year’s imagineNATIVE Film + Media Festival

By Pat Mullen

Documentaries stand in solidarity alongside zombie bloodbaths at this year’s imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival. Running October 22 to 27, Toronto’s spotlight on Indigenous cinema celebrates its 20th edition this year with another roster of films and media projects by and about Indigenous voices. The documentary contingent of the festival is characteristically strong, although some of the non-fiction works at imagineNATIVE, like the Netflix release Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen and N. Scott Momoday: Words from a Bear, might be familiar to Toronto audiences.

Enjoy the chance to catch some highlights you might have missed at Hot Docs at TIFF—or perhaps enjoy some of the dramatic offerings by documentary talents, like the thriller Red Snow from The Road Forward director Marie Clements or Zacharias Kunuk’s comedy of manners One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk, which opens the festival tonight. Read our review of the film here.

Here are some highlights for the documentary crowd at this year’s imagineNATIVE:

Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger

A line-up at imagineNATIVE would not be complete without Alanis Obomsawin. The Abenaki director returns with her 53rd film and closes her recent body of work about the rights of Indigenous children, which included We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice and Our People Will Be Healed. This cautiously optimistic film examines the government’s ongoing failure to provide for Indigenous children under the law of Jordan’s Principle, but also spotlights the families and children who grow stronger together while fighting for their rights. Read more about Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger in our interview with Obomsawin and our review of the film.

The Book of the Sea

This imaginative animated documentary hybrid is a stunner. Russian-Indigenous filmmaker Aleksei Vakhrushevfollows a group of Inuit and Chukchi hunters as they catch marine animals like seals, walruses, and whales in a gripping verité-style thread that shows the thrill of the hunt. The Book of the Sea weaves between these live action vignettes with visually decadent animated sequences that interpret the mythology of the sea. The animated sequences are a visual delight that draw upon traditions of oral storytelling to keep culture alive. Read our review of the film from Hot Docs.

Short Docs

The festival includes a decent crop of short documentaries and experimental works, but the standout to see is one that audiences might have slept on at TIFF. Christopher Auchter’s Now Is the Time offers an artfully inventive restoration of the NFB archives with its account of Haida carver Robert Davidson and his eventful feat of creating and erecting his community’s first totem pole in over 100 years. Read more about Now Is the Time in our interview with Auchter.

Now Is The Time (Promo Clip 30sec – COMING SOON) from NFB/marketing on Vimeo.

Eating Up Easter

This Chilean-American film whisks audiences to Easter Island for a personal exploration of film and family. Native Rapanu filmmaker Sergio Mata’u Rapu directs this Kartemquin Films presentation that passes down the history of the island to his young son. The film soaks up the landscape while drawing observations from four key figures: the filmmaker’s father, two musicians, and an ecologist who speculate about the future of their community in the face of globalization and climate change.

Wik vs. Queensland

1996 proved a tumultuous year for the Wik people in Australia. Wik vs. Queensland from director Dean Gibson examines the case in which the High Court of Australia granted native title co-existence to the Wik people and the fallout that ensued. The doc charts the resilience of the tribe as they battle in courts and stand their ground, firmly in the fight as the settler majority worries that co-existence might invite a flood of land claims.

nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up

Tasha Hubbard’s nîpawistamâsowin is the Canadian doc to beat this year. After winning top honours at both Hot Docs and DOXA, the film still has legs. It’s an important tale as Hubbard examines the history of violence committed against Indigenous people in Canada and digs deep into the systemic injustices and power imbalances that perpetuate said violence. The screening will be followed by a moderated conversation featuring Tasha Hubbard and members of Colton Boushie’s family. Read more about nîpawistamâsowin in our interview with Hubbard and review of the film.

Visit* for more info on this year’s festival.